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By Stu D. Hoss

Stu D. Hoss is a retired Air Force officer and aviator. He has visited and served in over 40 countries including flying combat missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa. Most of it under the guise of keeping the world safe for democracy, better blackjack, and for a few other personal reasons. He has been playing blackjack for 20+ years, and cut his teeth on the tables of South Lake Tahoe during flight training in Northern CA. Mr. Hoss uses basic strategy and the Hi-Lo count method to give himself a chance against the house edge. He currently resides in NV and is pursuing options for a second career. He's a regular attendee at the Global Gaming Expo each year in Las Vegas.

Note: The observations of casino conditions were made in August 2017. The casinos visited in downtown Las Vegas this month were:

Downtown Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, 206 N. Third Street

Plaza Hotel and Casino, One S. Main Street

My latest downtown Las Vegas version of The Odyssey is coming to a close with this month's issue. For the past several months I've been exploring and writing about blackjack and other casino traits at the joints in downtown Las Vegas. Collectively, the blackjack playing conditions have been poor. Last month I finally had good news to report in the form of the El Cortez. They're still dealing playable single-deck blackjack there. This month, I visited two properties that have been playable in the past. I intentionally saved these two for the end and hoped I wouldn't be disappointed. Read on to learn more about what I found at the Downtown Grand and the Plaza - sirens and lotus eaters included.

Downtown Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, 206 N. Third Street

The Downtown Grand (DTG) is located on Third Street between Stewart and Ogden Avenues, mere steps from The Mob Museum and two blocks from the Fremont Street Experience, on the site of the old Lady Luck Hotel and Casino. It's also a short walk to the bar scene in the Fremont East Entertainment District and less than a mile from shopping at the Las Vegas North Premium Outlets and cultural events at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts and Symphony Park. If you are on Fremont Street, find the Third Street Stage, between the Four Queens and the D Las Vegas, turn around facing away from the stage, and start walking. You'll see the DTG almost immediately.

As I walked into the DTG this month I was reminded of how time just seems to get away. The place still seems new to me, but actually held its grand opening on November 12, 2013. I chronicled the opening of the new property on the site of the former Lady Luck in the December issue of Blackjack Insider that year. Many of you may realize that the DTG is the first property to open in downtown Las Vegas in more than 20 years - unfortunately plenty have closed since. Work is currently under way on the site of the former Las Vegas Club, so this distinction may not last too much longer. Steve Miller was correct: Time does indeed keep on slipping into the future.

The primary focus of the DTG still appears to be drinking, eating, and other amenities. The property still has that retro feel and hip décor. The Art Bar is adjacent to the hotel lobby and DTG's version of the Hard Rock's famous "Center Bar" is called the "Furnace" and is located in, you guessed it, the center of the casino. The restaurant lineup appeared to be intact since my last visit, but honestly, I don't keep up since I've never eaten there. I do have a standing invite to an out-of-town acquaintance for dinner at Pizza Rock across the street though. It was like the original MTV with pizza included last time I was there! Freedom Beat opened last year and appears to still be going strong. With its blues/rock roadhouse vibe, live music, drink specials, and American cuisine it still reminds me of something you'd encounter at the Horseshoe or Sheraton in Tunica, MS years ago; maybe even on 6th Street in Austin.

The DTG includes over 600 hotel rooms and suites, plus features lots of vintage Las Vegas artwork - well worth a look if you're a classic Vegas pop culture aficionado like me. The casino has high ceilings; lots of open space; sleek fixtures; and modern, comfortable, leather gaming chairs. The whole floor has an urban warehouse, post-industrial flair to it.

Speaking of the casino, I found a few more blackjack tables than I did last time I counted. The main casino floor houses two adjacent pit areas, each with seven tables. These include two craps tables, two Roulette tables, one each of Pai Gow Poker and Three Card Poker, and eight blackjack tables. There was one double-deck game open when I visited and the remainders were of the six-deck variety; one with a $5 minimum bet was dealt from a continuous shuffler.

The blackjack house rules at the DTG aren't bad by...

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